The continued use of the D.C. Metrorail system has its occasional quirks, but none are more prevalent than faults in the escalator systems.
The Metrorail system runs 572 escalators, more than any other transit system in the world, according to a press release from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Some are more than 25 years old and have become a source of complaints for many riders who are dissatisfied with the number and frequency of escalators out of service.
“I hate the fact that it always seems like one of them is broken or being fixed,” sophomore Dan Lanini said. “They never just run.”
AU freshman Greg Wasserstrom calls the Metro escalators “expensive stairs.”
To address these concerns, Metro’s board of directors created a “blue ribbon panel” in August 2002 to get an outside perspective on how to maintain reliable escalators and elevators, according to a Metro press release.
The panel, a group of managers, technicians and customer-service representatives, recommended that Metro contract private companies to service the escalator system. However, Chief Executive Officer Richard A. Wright told The Washington Post that Metro is under union contract and instead will increase the training for its own escalator and elevator mechanics.
Metro is also taking preventative measures.
The street-level escalator at the Brookland-CUA station on the Red Line, which broke 147 times in a year, is one of four stations to receive a canopy to protect it from malfunctions caused by rain, snow and ice, according to a Metro spokeswoman.
“Water gets into the escalators and freezes in cold temperatures, causing mechanical problems,” Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. “That’s why we have the most problems with street-level escalators.”
The canopy at the Brookland station is part of a pilot program to help make the escalators run better. Metro plans to build 26 more canopies by the end of this year, Farbstein said.
“Not all outdoor locations will have them,” she said. “For example, Judiciary Square will not, as we do not wish to aesthetically block a police memorial.”
The canopies were also designed to help reduce the number of injuries customers get while on escalators, said Jim Gallagher, Metro’s deputy general manager for operations.
Metro reported in its budget for fiscal year 2004 that it will allocate $6 million to make escalators more reliable, and an additional $27 million for canopy construction.
Some escalators are undergoing what Metro calls “modernization,” which puts the escalators out of service for several months.
During this time, Farbstein said, the escalators are taken out and replaced piece by piece. Other escalators will have annual cleanings, which she said puts them out of service for three days at a time.
Some think it is a waste to spend money on modernization if the escalators are going to quickly be damaged again.
“It makes no sense to rehabilitate these ... before we get them covered,” said Katherine K. Hanley, who represents Fairfax County on the Metro Board, in an interview with The Post.
In the meantime, riders will have to make do with a steady flow of maintenance and repairs.
“Many people see an escalator being worked on and notice the escalator next to it isn’t running, and they assume both are broken,” Farbstein said. “This isn’t the case. We stop running the second one so that it can act as stairs in both the up and down directions.”
To see if escalators or elevators are working at a certain station, customers can look at Metro’s Web site, http://www.wmata.com, which shows the operational status in all stations.